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Complete with bikini-clad stylists, hair salons aimed at the Hooters set are on the rise

JOHN INTINI November 13 2006
THE BACK PAGES

Just a little bit off the top, please

Complete with bikini-clad stylists, hair salons aimed at the Hooters set are on the rise

JOHN INTINI November 13 2006

Just a little bit off the top, please

THE BACK PAGES

bazaar

Complete with bikini-clad stylists, hair salons aimed at the Hooters set are on the rise

JOHN INTINI

Blaine Harris thinks he owns the perfect men’s barbershop. His Saint John, N.B., location, built in 1890, has wellworn hardwood floors, a few traditional barber poles, and three black leather swivel chairs (circa 1945). He also stocks a full assortment of men’s magazines—including Field & Stream and Air Force—for his clients to flip through while waiting for a trim, or one of his famous straight-blade shaves. A seven-dollar haircut (five dollars for students and children) at Lancaster Barber Shop also comes with some lively debate, often about sports—Harris is a lifelong Boston Red Sox and Bruins fan. And customers can grab an A&W root beer candy or a lollipop on the way out from a big jar next to the cash register.

But for those who prefer eye candy, several U.S. chains are sexing up the all-male salon aesthetic. Haircutters targeting the Hooters crowd are popping up all over the U.S.—and will likely be in a Canadian strip mall near you next year. They are, according to those who run them, for men who want pampering but aren’t comfortable in a unisex salon or one of the shops that have opened in recent years aimed at so-called metrosexuals. In the U.S., there are more than 400 Sports Clips franchises—with bigscreen TVs and female stylists who talk sports— and about 60 Knockouts, where hairdressers wearing black shorts and tight T-shirts (made by American Apparel) cut hair from inside a faux boxing ring while clients sip on a beer and flip channels on flat-screen TVs. Some of the “ringside services” include manicures, pedicures and massages.

Last month, Rudy Lilly and Mike Blot opened a beach-themed barbershop in Fairfax, Va., that they plan to franchise, called

Paradise Cuts (Bob Marley and Jimmy Buffett songs often pound from the speakers). In Paradise—at least in this case—the all-female staff work in bikinis. (In one of the upcoming print ads, the caption under a photo of four girls in bikinis reads, “So you say you don’t like barbershop quartets?”) “At first, a couple of the women were a little bit nervous—a little tentative,” says Lilly, 43“But after a day or two that’s gone and it’s now just a work uniform.”

One that helps earn their stylists better tips than they could ever expect at a typical salon. “The guys appreciate the girls in bikinis,” says Lilly, “and are willing to tip a little bit more for that.” On a US$25 trim, Lilly says that many tip about US$10. At Knockouts—where cuts range between US$15 and US$25—there are no rules against stylists dating clients, but they are told not to flirt. It’s not surprising that most of the employees at these establishments are pretty women in their 20s and 30s.

The thought of having scantily clad women traipsing around a salon with a pair of shears and a blow-dryer raises some eyebrows. Lilly says that before finding their current strip mall location (next to a jeweller), he and Blot were turned down by a prospective landlord. But he’s quick to counter claims that his business is demeaning to women. “You could al-

most say we’re exploiting men’s weakness,” says Lilly. “Everything you look at is somewhat sexist. Even the evening news anchorwomen are usually perky, pretty women.” All hires are professionally trained. “We have to make sure the guys get a good haircut,” says Lilly, “or else they’re not going to come back.”

Lilly says his wife’s only reservation with his new business venture was related to the start-up costs. Knockouts’ CEO Tom Friday actually went into business with his wife, Karin, who is the Texas-based company’s president. They founded the company a little less than two years ago; Friday expects to double the number of Knockouts locations in the U.S. next year and branch out into Canada (Friday is looking for someone to run the business north of the border). “We’ve had franchisees make a profit in their first month,” boasts Friday, adding that it costs US$125,000 to open the doors of a new Knockouts.

Still, none of the U.S. businesses in this niche market take it as far as a salon in Montreal did in the late ’90s. There, haircuts were priced according to how much the stylist had on. For $25, a customer could get his hair cut by a woman in lingerie. For $5 more, she would take off her top. And for $45, she would totally disrobe. “Back then the younger guys would tease me and ask when I was going to bring in one of those girls,” says Harris. So has he given any thought to having barbers in bikinis? “The old folks around here,” he laughs, “would probably have heart attacks.” M